Large trucks are commercial vehicles subject to different driving, maintenance and training rules than passenger vehicles like pickups.
Their drivers are subject to the expectation is that they behave like professionals, and it’s generally accepted as well that they should be better trained and more experienced than the average driver.
Accidents involving large trucks and professional drivers can be legally complicated, and only an attorney who is intimately familiar with the laws regulating commercial vehicles and interstate transport can properly defend your rights.
Commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) like 18-wheelers must follow the regulations imposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The primary goal of the agency is to reduce accidents, injuries, and deaths.
States also have laws related to the license and driving requirements for CMVs. Any business using them must obtain authority from both the state and federal trucking authorities. In addition to law enforcement, employers must enforce these regulations and drivers must obey them.
When they don’t, accidents may happen.
Liability in a CMV accident is typically grounded in some form of negligent driving, but may include breaches of federal regulations or the use of intoxicating substances like alcohol.
The ability to prove to the court that the applicable laws and regulations were not followed requires expertise in the law as well as the forensic accounting of records and logs demonstrating compliance.
Only an experienced, expert attorney like Michael L. Hebert can help you determine if a commercial driver violated the law, supporting your claim to compensation.
And time is not on your side.
Trucking companies have every incentive to destroy or alter these records, and every hour you wait is an hour more they have to plan their legal – or illegal – defense.
Mr. Hebert is an expert on these commercial vehicle regulations, and he has decades of experience uncovering mistakes, fabrications, and omissions in the records and logs that can prove your case in court.
Generally, these regulations are found within Chapter 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
Of particular focus are the following sections:
ALCOHOL AND CMV DRIVING (49 CFR 382)
The use of alcohol and other controlled substances while driving a commercial motor vehicle is governed in part by 49 CFR 382. Each section addresses a different aspect of this issue.
Some of the relevant sections include:
382.105 TESTING PROCEDURES
Employers are responsible for implementing and following alcohol and controlled substance testing in compliance with federal law.
382.121 EMPLOYEE ADMISSION OF ALCOHOL AND CONTROLLED
Employees may not face harsh consequences for alcohol or controlled substance use provided they voluntarily admit to drinking or taking drugs before a safety-sensitive function. Such rules encourage commercial drivers to refuse to drive their big rigs in the event that they are impaired.
382.201 ALCOHOL CONCENTRATION
Commercial drivers are not allowed to drive or perform any safety-sensitive function if their alcohol concentration is at or above .04. Employers are also required not to allow commercial drivers with an alcohol concentration at or above .04 to perform such duties.
This alcohol concentration is substantially lower than the statutory limit recognized by the court for drunk driving.
382.205 ON-DUTY USE
Commercial drivers are not allowed to use or consume any amount of alcohol, regardless of how much, while driving or performing other safety-sensitive functions. Moreover, employers are required to forbid any drivers from performing such duties if they suspect that a driver has used any alcohol.
382.207 PRE-DUTY USE
Commercial drivers are not permitted to perform any safety-sensitive function within four hours of having consumed alcohol. Similarly, employers most not permit a driver to perform such actions if they know the driver has consumed alcohol within the past four hours.
382.209 USE FOLLOWING AN ACCIDENT
If a commercial driver is required to take a post-accident alcohol test, they are not permitted to use alcohol until the test is completed or eight hours have passed.
382.213 CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES USE
Commercial drivers are not allowed to perform any safety-sensitive function while using any controlled substance unless a medical practitioner gives permission. Additionally, an employer is not permitted to allow their drivers to perform these activities if they know controlled substances are being used with permission from a medical practitioner or doctor.
382.215 CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES TESTING
Commercial drivers are not allowed to report to duty, remain on duty, or perform a safety-sensitive function if a test shows the use of a controlled substance. In the event of such a test result, an employer is not allowed to permit the driver to perform these duties or functions.
382.413 INQUIRES FOR CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES INFORMATION FROM PREVIOUS EMPLOYERS
New employers of commercial drivers must request alcohol and controlled substance information from their employee’s previous employers.
382.601 ALCOHOL MISUSE AND CONTROLLED SUBSTANCES USE INFORMATION, TRAINING, AND REFERRAL
Employers of commercial drivers must set forth a federally compliant alcohol and controlled substance policy. They must educate their drivers on this policy and include information to help their drivers comply with all portions of the regulations.
LICENSE QUALIFICATIONS (49 CFR 383)
This section focuses on the minimum requirements necessary to obtain and keep a commercial driver’s license.
383.1 PURPOSE AND SCOPE
A commercial driver may only have one commercial driver’s license. They must also notify employers of certain convictions, and may not drive on a suspended license. This section also sets forth some testing requirements necessary to obtain a commercial driver’s license.
383.31 NOTIFICATION OF CONVICTIONS FOR DRIVER VIOLATIONS
Commercial drivers are required to inform the relevant person of any and all motor vehicle charges, except for parking tickets, occurring within a certain state.
This notification process includes time limits, typically 30 days, and must include other relevant aspects of the charge or violation.
383.33 NOTIFICATION OF DRIVER’S LICENSE SUSPENSIONS
Commercial drivers must notify relevant individuals including their employers of any suspension of their driving privileges.
Such notification must be made with days of the suspension.
383.37 EMPLOYER RESPONSIBILITIES
Employers must not allow their employees to drive if the employee has lost their commercial driver’s license, has more than one commercial driver’s license, or other limitations included in this section.
383.51 DISQUALIFICATION OF DRIVERS
Commercial drivers who lose their commercial driver’s license are not permitted to drive 18-wheelers, big rigs, or other commercial vehicles.
Commercial drivers can lose their license for various amounts of time depending on the nature of their offense.
383.71 TESTING AND LICENSING PROCEDURES
Commercial drivers must complete a knowledge test as well as a driving test. In certain situations, the driver must supply proof of citizenship.
383.111 REQUIRED KNOWLEDGE
Commercial drivers must be familiar with all the relevant regulations, maintenance requirements, and safe operating procedures. They must know as well the effects of fatigue, uncorrected vision, impaired hearing, and poor health, and must also know the effects of alcohol and drug use on driving.
Commercial drivers must also be aware of safety control systems including lights, horns, mirrors, fire extinguishers, and other aspects of their CMVs.
In addition, commercial drivers must be familiar with shifting, reversing, night operation, extreme driving conditions, emergency maneuvers, hazard perceptions, skid control and recovery, vehicle inspections, hazardous materials, and air brake systems.
383.13 REQUIRED SKILLS
In addition to the knowledge requires in 383.111, commercial drivers must exhibit skills in basic vehicle control, safe driving, air brakes, and inspection.
383.135 MINIMUM PASSING SCORES
Commercial drivers must score at least an 80% on the knowledge test and demonstrate the ability to successfully perform all skills listed in the previous section(s).
COMMERCIAL DRIVER QUALIFICATIONS (49 CFR 391)
This section of the commercial driving regulations sets the qualifications necessary for someone to obtain a commercial driver’s license.
391.11 GENERAL QUALIFICATIONS OF DRIVERS
Only those qualified to drive CMVs are allowed to do so. Commercial drivers must be at least 21, be able to speak and read English, and have a valid commercial driver’s license.
391.13 RESPONSIBILITIES OF DRIVERS
Employers are not allowed to permit employees to drive CMVs until the drivers can determine if their cargo has been properly loaded and distributed
Additionally, the commercial driver must be familiar with the methods used to secure their cargo.
391.15 DISQUALIFICATION OF DRIVERS
Disqualified drivers are not permitted to drive CMVs.
Commercial drivers are considering disqualified for various reasons, including certain criminal offenses and the loss or suspension of their license.
These reasons include, but are not limited to: driving a CMV while under the influence of alcohol, driving a CMV with a blood alcohol level at or above .04%, driving under the influence of alcohol as defined by state law, driving a CMV under the influence of certain narcotics, transporting certain unlawful substances, leaving the scene of an accident, or receiving a felony conviction involving the use of a CMV.
Disqualification can last anywhere between three months and three years depending on the conduct.
391.23 INVESTIGATION AND INQUIRIES
All trucking companies must investigate all potential employees before hiring. The investigation must include a check of the commercial driver’s driving record over the past three years, a safety performance review, and a review of all of the driver’s previous employers within the past three years.
391.25 ANNUAL INQUIRY AND REVIEW OF DRIVING RECORD
At least once a year, a trucking company must check each of their commercial driver’s driving record. This check must demonstrate that the commercial driver has not become ineligible to drive CMVs.
391.41 PHYSICAL QUALIFICATIONS FOR DRIVERS
Commercial drivers must be deemed physically fit and capable.
Commercial drivers are not permitted to drive if they have lost a foot, hand, leg, or arm. Other physical problems that may disqualify a commercial driver include certain problems with his or her fingers, arms, feet, or legs, insulin dependency, a heart disorder, respiratory dysfunction, high blood pressure, arthritis, epilepsy, a psychiatric disorder, vision worse than 20/40, or inadequate hearing.
DRIVING COMMERCIAL MOTOR VEHICLES (49 CFR 392)
392.2 APPLICABLE OPERATING RULES
Commercial drivers are required to follows the laws of the jurisdiction they are driving in. If federal law ever imposes a higher standard than the state law, the federal law must be followed. For example, if a commercial driver is driving in New Mexico and the federal regulations are stricter than New Mexico’s, the federal standards will apply.
392.3 ILL OR FATIGUED OPERATOR
Commercial drivers are generally not permitted to drive if they are sick, tired, or impaired in any other way that impacts their ability to drive.
392.4 DRUGS AND OTHER SUBSTANCES
Commercial drivers are not permitted to possess or be under the influence of any amphetamine, narcotic, or other substance which may render the driver incapable of safely operating a CMV.
392.5 ALCOHOL PROHIBITION
Commercial drivers cannot be under the influence of alcohol with 4 hours of driving a CMV, nor can they use alcohol or have any measured alcohol concentration while on duty.
392.6 SCHEDULES TO CONFORM WITH SPEED LIMITS
Not only must commercial drivers obey all speed limits, but the commercial routes must also not be scheduled such that the semi-truck driver is forced to exceed the speed limit to meet that schedule.
392.7 EQUIPMENT, INSPECTION AND USE
No commercial driver is allowed to drive if they suspect the CMV’s equipment, including brakes, steering, lights, tires, horn, windshield wipers, mirrors, or coupling devices, are not working properly.
392.9 INSPECTION OF CARGO, CARGO SECUREMENT DEVICES, AND SYSTEMS
Commercial drivers are not permitted to drive a commercial unless their cargo is properly secured, nor can the cargo obstruct the driver’s view or movement.
In addition, commercial drivers carrying cargo must inspect this cargo within the first 50 miles of their trip to make any necessary adjustments. A commercial driver must then reexamine and secure cargo whenever the driver changes duty, has been driving for three hours, or has driven 150 miles.
392.10 DRIVING OF VEHICLES
Certain CMVs with certain loads must observe special rules at railroad crossings. These rules include stopping between 15 and 50 feet of a railroad crossing, listening and looking for an approaching train, and crossing the track without changing gears.
392.14 HAZARDOUS CONDITIONS; EXTREME CAUTION
Commercial drivers are required to exercise extreme caution when driving in certain conditions, including snow, ice, sleet, fog, mist, rain, dust, or smoke.
392.22 EMERGENCY SIGNALS; STOPPED COMMERCIAL MOTOR VEHICLES
Any time a commercial driver must stop along a road or the shoulder of a road, the driver must immediately activate their hazard lights. The commercial driver must then place the necessary warning devices within 10 minutes.
These safety devices must be on the traffic side of the tractor-trailer within 10 feet, at 100 feet directly behind the big rig, and at 100 feet in front of the semi-truck.
While these requirements cannot be followed in all situations, whenever possible, commercial drivers must also take extra steps when stopped within 500 feet of a curve, hill, or other obstruction of view.
392.33 USE OF LIGHTED LAMPS AND REFLECTORS
The reflectors on CMVs must not be obscured by any objects, dirt, or equipment.
392.71 Radar Detectors; use and/or possession
Radar detectors are not permitted to be used or equipped in CMVs.
COMMERCIAL EQUIPMENT (49 CFR 393)
Section 393 addresses safety and operating equipment standards. This section is divided into subparts addressing various portions of a commercial vehicle.
393.9 LAMPS REFLECTIVE DEVICES, AND ELECTRICAL WIRING
All lamps on a commercial vehicle must be capable of being operated at all times. Also, lamps must not be obscured by dirt, other equipment, or another object.
393.11 LAMPS AND REFLECTIVE DEVICES
In addition to being in working order, lamps and reflective devices must also follow other standards. There are special rules that control the devices’ quantity, color, location, position, and height off the roadway.
393.13 RETROFLECTIVE SHEETING AND REFLEX REFLECTORS
While the requirements for reflectors changed in 1993, older CMVs are required to be retrofitted to meet current law.
Reflective sheeting must be placed on all sides of the trailer or semi-trailer, and the strips must be horizontal. There are also requirements for the minimum amount of reflective sheeting that must be used
Commercial braking systems must abide by various requirements. These relate to service brakes, hydraulic brakes, air brakes, vacuum brakes, electric brakes, parking brakes, and emergency brakes.
393.78 WINDSHIELD WIPING AND WASHING SYSTEMS
All commercial vehicles must be equipped with a power-driven wiping system consisting of at least two wiper blades.
393.80 REAR-VISION MIRRORS
All commercial vehicles must have two rear-vision mirrors, one on each side of the tractor. Such mirrors must be angled to give the driver a view of the highway to the rear and to both sides of the vehicle.
393.86 REAR IMPACT GUARDS AND REAR END PROTECTION
Many commercial vehicles are required to be designed to prevent a vehicle from going under the semi-trailer in the event of a rear-end collision.
Federal regulations control the width of these guards, as well as their height, surface size, structure, and labeling.
393.116 -393.120 SPECIFIC REQUIREMENTS BY COMMODITY TYPE
These regulations state the specific requirements necessary to properly secure cargo such as logs or metal coils.
Commercial wheels and rims must not be cracked or broken, stud and bolt holes must be round, and nuts and bolts must not be missing or loose.
393.207 SUSPENSION SYSTEMS
This section implements quality control standards on the suspension systems of commercial vehicles, including their axles, lead springs, coil springs, torsion bars, air suspensions, and suspension exhaust controls.
393.209 STEERING WHEEL SYSTEMS
A special section of the federal regulations addresses the requirements for steering systems, including the steering wheel lash, the steering column, steering system, and power steering systems.
DRIVE TIME AND ON-DUTY HOURS (49 CFR 395.3)
395.3 MAXIMUM DRIVING TIME FOR PROPERTY-CARRYING VEHICLES
Commercial drivers may drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
Additionally, drivers may not operate a CMV beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. Off-duty time does not extend the 14-hour period.
Over the span of 7 days, commercial drivers are not allowed to drive more than 60 hours. Over the span of 8 days, commercial drivers are not permitted to drive more than 70 hours. Moreover, drivers using a sleeper birth must spend at least 8 hours per day in the sleeper birth, and must then split another 2 hours either in the sleeper birth or off duty.
395.8 DRIVER’S RECORD OF DUTY STATUS
Commercial drivers must keep a record every day of their hours on and off duty.
These records must be kept on a specific form.
The record must include time off duty, time in the sleeper birth, time driving, and time on duty. In addition, the record must include the date, total daily miles driven, truck or tractor and trailer number, the name of the carrier, the driver signature, the 24 hour period start time, the main office address, remarks, the co-driver, total hours, and shipping document numbers.
COMMERCIAL MAINTENANCE (49 CFR 396)
396.3 INSPECTION, REPAIR, AND MAINTENANCE
All parts and accessories on CMVs must be in safe and proper condition at all times.
Maintenance records must be kept for most commercial vehicles and must include the date of the inspection, maintenance operations to be performed, a record of any test conducted, as well as identifying information about the vehicle.
These records must be kept and preserved at the place where the commercial vehicle is housed or maintained, and must be preserved for a minimum of 1 ½ years after the CMV leaves the motor carrier’s control.
All commercial vehicles must be properly lubricated and free of all oil and grease leaks.
396.7 UNSAFE OPERATIONS FORBIDDEN
Commercial vehicles are not allowed to be driven if there is any condition that is likely to cause a breakdown or accident, unless the condition is found mid-trip.
Under that circumstance, the CMV can be driven to the nearest place possible for service and repairs.
396.9 INSPECTION OF MOTOR VEHICLES IN OPERATION
If a commercial vehicle does not pass inspection it can be declared “out of service.”
After receiving a report of the inspection, the trucking company must be notified. Within 15 days of receiving the report, the trucking company must correct all defects and violations and send the report back to the proper agency.
396.11 DRIVER VEHICLE INSPECTION REPORT(S)
Commercial drivers must prepare a report at the end of each day. The report must include the vehicle(s) in operation and must address: brakes, steering mechanisms, lighting and reflector devices, tires, horns, windshield wipers, rear vision mirrors, coupling devices, wheels and rims, and emergency equipment.
These reports must include any defect and be signed by all drivers.
If the report identifies any defect that affects safety, that issue must be corrected prior to the CMV being driven again.
These reports must be preserved for three months.
396.13 DRIVER INSPECTION
Before driving any CMV, the driver must be satisfied the vehicle is working properly and review that last driver inspection report.
If the report that the driver reviews shows any defects or deficiencies, it must be signed and certified that the proper repairs have been made.
396.17 PERIODIC INSPECTION
In addition to daily reports and inspections, all commercial vehicles must be inspected annually.
396.21 PERIODIC INSPECTION RECORD KEEPING REQUIREMENTS
The annual reports required in section 396.17 must include detailed information and be kept for at least 14 months.
TRANSPORTATION OF HAZARDOUS MATERIALS (49 CFR 397)
397.3 STATE AND LOCAL LAWS, ORDINANCES, AND REGULATIONS
Any commercial vehicles containing hazardous materials must follow strict federal and state rules.
In the event that state and federal rules impose different standards the stricter ones apply.
397.5 ATTENDANCE AND SURVEILLANCE OF MOTOR VEHICLES
When commercial vehicles are carrying certain loads, commercial drivers must be awake and within 100 feet of the vehicle and not have an obstructed view of the semi-truck.
When certain hazardous loads are in a commercial vehicle, the CMV must never be parked within 5 feet of a public highway or street, on private property without the property owner being aware of its presence, or within 300 feet of a bridge, tunnel, dwelling, or place where people work unless absolutely necessary.
When commercial vehicles are carrying certain hazardous materials, the drivers are not allowed to smoke or carry a lit cigarette, cigar, or pipe within 25 feet of the semi-truck.
When commercial vehicles are carrying certain hazardous cargo, the drivers must begin each trip after the vehicle has been parked by checking all tires. If any tires are found to be leaking, improperly inflated, flat, or overheated, the truck driver must repair the tire before leaving.
If necessary, the driver may drive to the nearest possible place for the repairs to occur.